The FUR MASTERS
A gentle girl meets passion in the raw; a trading post hears savage war cries
The Story: In 1804, at the Hudson's Bay Company's York Factory post, an employee called Big Angus is dispatched on a trading trip. He is a dour man who has a family in Scotland with which he has not communicated for years.
In Montreal, Neil Campbell arrives from Scotland, seeking his father who is thought to be in the employ of some furtrading company. He joins the Nor'westers as an apprentice, and is sent to a trading post beyond Ste. Marie called Buffalo Lake. Here he meets Bouché, another employee, and the latter’s half-breed daughter, Julie, a very attractive girl.
Macdonald, in charge of the post, has been trying in vain to persuade Julie to live with him without benefit of marriage. He orders Neil to keep away from her, but the latter pays no attention and his relations with his superior become strained.
Macdonald orders Bouché and Neil to go on a tong trading trip that will bring them into severe competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company: and they must obey, though neither likes the idea of leaving Julie behind at Macdonald's mercy.
A band of Indians visit the post, and after Macdonald gives them liquor their conduct becomes alarming.
PETAUN roused himself with a groan. He had hazy memories of the previous night and his head hurt. He seemed to recollect fighting over nothing with an unknown member of his own people; now it appeared strange that he should have done that. He argued, however, that it was not his fault, but that of the white men. This conviction grew in his brain, giving birth to mounting resentment, and, feeling the need of counsel, he decided to discuss the matter with Mamanouska. When he went out, his woman drew her shawl over her head and did not speak.
The camp seemed strangely quiet, and Mamanouska, whose lodge stood at a little distance as became that of a conjurer, gave no welcome when the chief entered. He, too, was sitting by his fire, his face expressionless, occupied with a situation that absorbed every thought, so he waited till Petaun spoke.
“There was fighting amongst my people last night, Mamanouska, but I do not remember it. Tell me, you whose head was clear because you drink nothing.”
“It is true there was fighting.” The conjurer’s eyes remained fastened on the fire.
“Was any man hurt?”
“Who was that?”
“Pinne, your brother.”
“Pinne!” The chief’s voice was hollow and he rose quickly. “Then I go to see him.”
“Pinne will not see you nor any one more. He is dead.” Petaun swayed where he stood; a surge of blood seemed to pass over his eyes, and the hair on his head prickled. Pinne. His brother. The one man he loved! So many years he had hunted and fought beside Pinne against the Piegans and Sarcees! Then sudden rage took and shook him and left him trembling.
“Who has done this thing?” he croaked.
“It was the axe of a brother in the hand of a brother,” replied Mamanouska in a thin reedy tone.
For a moment nothing happened. Petaun made no sound and stood as though carved in basalt.
“I told you that some should come to Buffalo Lake that would not return, but it was not told to me who that should be,” continued the conjurer in a voice of fate. “It is plain that not you but the poison of the white men has done this thing.”
Petaun, feeling himself forever abased by this one act, burst into a great cry—the wail of a tortured soul that pierced through the camp and to lodges where hunters, still lying prone, lighting off their orgy, heard and understood. That a man should be thus killed was nothing new—it often happened when the traders gave firewater from their potent casks— but that one should kill his brother was a thing to be remembered.
Now slowly, with the chief beside him, the conjurer walked to Pinne’s teepee, lifted the door, and the two gazed at what lay silent, watched over by a shrouded woman.
But Mamanouska had more to say in the matter. All through the hours of night he too had sat thinking and smoking, till now it began to appear that in this bloodshed lay his own opportunity. He hated the white man with an ancient undying hatred. Doing no trapping himself, such work being beneath his dignity, he did no trade; he desired nothing that lay on Macdonald’s shelves. He was an ascetic, a man apart who neither fought nor killed, having moved far beyond that; void of all passions but one, this being to fortify his own position in the eyes of the tribe. And the disciplining of his body had given him a clarity of understanding far above that of the rest of his people. He
worked only with his brain. Now he went alone to the chief-
“Petaun,” he said in a tone that carried deep conviction, “again it is not you that have done this thing, but the ixnson of the whites. Were there no such poison, Pinne would not be dead.”
Petaun snatched at his gun, and Mamanouska put out a restraining hand.
“There is first much to be arranged and now is not the time. I will talk to the spirits, those who spoke the truth before, and they will say what must be done; till then let there be no word of it save between you and me. The others will go to the fort and trade, also saying nothing of this; but go not yourself, for it is in my mind that the name of Petaun will be remembered by his tribe if you and I are only wise.”
That morning they laid Pinne on a platform built across the branches of a tree, high up so that the wolf might not reach it. His face had been painted, he was wrapped in his best robes, his loaded gun and a skinning knife rested by the slack arm, and the scalps he had taken in battle were sewn to the fringe of his buffalo shroud. With him lay a bag of pemmican, some corn from the Mandan country, a small kettle, flint and steel so that he might not hunger on the long journey to the setting sun, while his pipe and a foot of Spencer’s Twist assured him solace by the way. So the forest received its pagan child, and over him drifted a few white flakes, harbingers of approaching winter.
That afternoon the men of the tribe appeared in pairs, unarmed, at the great gate, carrying such fur as they had of beaver, marten, mink and otter. Most of it was poor, trapped out of season, short, thin, with little natural oil, lacking a fine velvety undercoat that comes with the frost. Mink and marten had little glossiness, and the beaver was yellowish instead of deep strong brown.
Macdonald examined it without interest. He would trade if only to keep it from the hands of the English, though to trap in t his fashion meant a scarcity of prime stuff later on when forest creatures wore their winter covering, so he instructed Neil to pay but half the standard price in gds, and returned to his own house after a swift scrutiny of his dark-faced visitors.
Bouché, lighting his pipe, looked at the growing piles and shrugged.
“M’sieu,” he said, “we laughed at the English for demanding that fur be brought perhaps six weeks journey to salt water; but were they not right, since such a voyage occupies the savage the whole summer and he does little trapping either going or coming. Is it not we ourselves who, dealing thus, will soon make it that there is no fur at all left for anyone?”
Now, after a deliberate inspection of what the store contained, trading began; and for their pelts the hunters received tokens known as skins—small wooden slabs, each certifying trade value to the amount of one beaver, there being no money or coinage circulating in the interior. They waited motionless; and Neil, with memories of the fur house in Montreal, ran his fingers through the soft hair estimating its condition, while Bouché sat on a keg ready to interpret when needed. He seemed amused.
Prices for goods ran high in this far section of the pays d'en haut, even when fur was not prime. It took fourteen fair skins to buy a cheap flintlock gun made in Birmingham, one for a pound of powder or four pounds of shot or sixteen flints, seven for a blanket coat, two for a brass kettle. For two skins a hunter might choose a check shirt, a pair of yarn stockings or a pound of glass beads, while a pistol cost him seven. For one he might decide between three fire steels, an ice chisel, a pound of thread or tobacco, or a dozen needles, and for such stuff as was bought today the terms were stiff er still.
It was late when trading ceased, the last hunter departed and Macdonald, surveying the pile of fur, expressed himself as ill-satisfied. But he had kept Petaun from the English house, and that for the time must serve. When he went back to his customary evening tipple, Neil breathed more easily and looked at the guide.
‘‘So ends my first day of real trading, Bouché. Are they all like this?”
“They are all the same but more interesting when the fur is better. You have observed that Petaun himself did not come, also that no words were spoken even by the women?”
“Yes, why was that?”
“I asked myself why. Petaun has told them not to speak. Something moves in their minds that has to do with the dead man, and I would like to know more. I am not very comfortable in this business.”
“If Petaun blames us for that, isn’t he right?”
“The blood of his brother is on his hands. Had it been that of another man it would be different, but the savage who kills a brother considers himself forever cursed. It is important to know more, so I shall send my woman to find out. It may be they will talk to one of their own blood.” “Why should I not go too?” asked the young man, hit by remorse.
“M’sieu might not return. Believe me, when a savage hides himself as now does Petaun, he has many strange thoughts and it is not well to disturb him. So my woman will talk to other women. It is better so. And, m’sieu. to change your own thoughts which I can see are not happy, will you not put aside this affair and be instructed tonight in French? Julie is ready.”
SHE HAD ON moccasins of deerskin tanned to whiteness and worked with a pattern of stained porcupine quills, a short yellow skirt and blouse made of stuff that Bouché had brought her from Grand Portage. Her arms were bare to the smooth shoulder, and about her neck a string of glass beads with the hue of blood glowed with living fire against the smooth throat. Her shining hair, not straight like her mother’s but rippling as a wind-kissed river, was loosed from its customary massive braids and hung to her waist. Her eyes sparkled, and she stood for a moment very erect and supple, perfectly aware of the impression she had created.
Neil, his heart in unaccustomed tumult, only understood part of what this occasion meant to her. It was the first
time that she had been allowed to receive a man alone.....-
hitherto Bouché had always forbidden it —and for tonight she had studied her toilet and rehearsed her entrance. She knew that she could make this man love her as she longed to be loved, but she had schooled herself. She must not rush to his arms, it must not be so easy for him as that. Her French blood whispered that this, the first of what she intended should be many such meetings, demanded a certain art on her side. The woman in her was alive and eager for conquest, but with no little dignity she welcomed her visitor, installing him in one of the big axe-hewn chairs that Bouché fashioned in his spare time. Over its frame was
stretched a moosehide that yielded to the body like a
“Alors, m’sieu,” she said trying to look serious, "you come for the lesson. You know no French at all?”
“But very little that I got in Montreal.” he answered gravely, but his eyes were bright.
“Then how shall we begin? Never before have I taught anyone like this. Shall I say something in French and you say it after me?”
“M’sieu, vous êtes bien venu.”
“Bien venu, what’s that?" he repeated.
“Bien arrivé—you are well arrived. There was M’sieu Stuart for two years, but he was so silent and you will not be like that. Moi-même j'étais trop seule—say that. It means that I was too seule, too lonely. When the snow comes we shall put on racquettes and shoot together, and I will show you my traps and ça sera joli—say that. It will be very nice, eh?” Her dignity was now thawing like snow crystals in the sun; she became very gay, and Neil’s pulse grew faster. Then: “Will m’sieu teach me in return?” “What?” he asked curtly.
“To write in English. I can read but not write except with the Indian signs.”
“I’ve heard of them,” said he. “Tell me.”
She took a charred stick from the floor, stripped a yellow tissue sheet from a roll of canoe bark that stood in one corner, weighting it flat with small lumps of the lead from which Bouché cast his rifle bullets. Bending her dark head, she set to work.
What Neil saw was a line of symbols, angles and triangles, with dots placed at various points. They were very plain to the eye, and drawn with firmness of touch in a strong black line. Making them, she would pause, look at them with a provocative expression, and bend her head again while the strong slim fingers moved slowly forward. At the end of the line she put her head on one side and laughed.
“M’sieu cannot read that.”
“Can anyone read it?” he countered.
“Those with my blood find it easy. It can be read from the great bay to the mountains of the West, and always it will mean the same thing.”
“And what is that?”
“You must not know—yet.”
“When?” said he nervously, guessing at the truth of it. “I’ll teach you something in English; give me the stick.”
For answer she gazed at him with a strange expression. Her lips began to tremble, all her gay confidence slipped away and sudden tears filled her eyes. She covered her face.
Neil took a quick breath. So strange a revulsion from happiness to grief changed his mood, and he felt instantly sorry for her. There had been no mistaking her first intention, but now no provocative challenge was left and he saw only a slender slip of a girl, hungry for companionship in the wilderness.
“Julie,” he stammered, not daring to touch her, “what is the matter? Tell me.”
THE SLIM shoulders grew more quiet, but she did not speak.
“Julie, tell me, can 1 do anything? Can I help?”
She looked at him, eyes large, soft and shadowed, and made a queer little sound.
“Would you understand if I told you? I am very foolish.”
“I’d try,” he assured her earnestly. “I think I’d understand.”
“Then it is like this: Tonight is the first time, the very first time, that a monsieur has treated me as you have: always since I was fourteen years old it was different. I saw in their faces something else, and it frightened me. Sometimes 1 would hide myself when the brigade came from Grand Portage till the messieurs had gone, and sometimes they would go to my father and ask for me, offering money, but always he said no. In marriage yes, but not anything else. But you—you are different. With you I am not afraid but ver’ happy, and these tears are tears of happiness. Do you understand all this?”
Neil gave a jerky nod. He was greatly moved, desire passed away from him. and there came in its place something deeper and not less welcome to his lonely spirit. But he remained sensible that, though desire was still for the moment, it yet lived within him.
“I do understand.” he said gently.
At this she smiled brightly, nodded and wrinkled her dusky brows, while of a sudden her quick thoughts changed like the wind.
“There is no one else than me; no girl perhaps in Canada you think of?”
“No one at all. Julie. I was in Canada but three months, sorting fur that perhaps came from Buffalo Lake, I did not ever expect to see this place, and did not even know where it was. Now would you learn some English writing?”
“Plus lard—that means not yet. You did not know there was such a girl as Julie, eh? And before you came to Canada, tell me about that.”
With an odd sensation of being a muchtravelled man. he began to talk of Scotland; of misty shores, mountains and corries. of his home in Argyle where there were no Indians, no trapping and hardly any trees, of long-horned, short-bodied Highland cattle, of the voyage from Glasgow to Bristol and Bristol to Montreal, of his father now long with the English on the Bay whom he had not seen for fifteen years and would not know if he did see him, of his mother to whom he was now composing a letter that would go when the winter express came through from Fort Vermilion to Canada. He showed her the little silver St. Andrew’s Cross with his name and the date of his birth that he wore round his neck, a gift from his mother on parting. It did him good to unburden himself for the first time since he left home. Unconsciously he painted a living picture, for there stirred in him an emotion both sweet and unsettling; while the girl listened absorbed, her expanding intelligence visioning that other world of which she had dreamed so often and knew so little. It was there that some day he must take her.
Presently he became self-conscious and stopped. “I talk too much,” he said, flushing.
“There is more?”
“Yes, a lot more.”
“Then let us keep it for the next time. There cannot be too much, and it is so new to me. Now7 m’sieu will eat—it is all ready. No, sit there; I will do it.”
She set food on the table—a loaf nearly white made with pounded com from the country7 of the Mandans, shreds of pemmican seasoned with wild onions and herbs, a jar of w7ild strawberries and syrup, sugar of the hard maple that Bouché had brought from Lac des Pluies, roast partridge, beaver tails sweet to the tooth, and strong black Souchong tea. There were cups and plates of real china, carried to Buffalo Lake over many a stony portage; and not since he left New7 Fort had the young man seen such a feast.
She sat opposite him, the young smoothfaced mistress of it all, very happy and proud of her housekeeping, her eyes dáncing as she noted the surprise in his, for this was her hour, all hers, and she watched him eat, not touching food herself till he made her. She had too many visions of nights just like this when presently she w7ould not be left alone, and the same thought must also have been with him when he looked at her with grave understanding.
“You are not hungry, Julie?”
“My head is too full of too many things. You like this?”
“It is wonderful. I had not expected to find such a table outside of Canada. You are a fine cook.”
He felt for his pipe and moved to the hearth for a brand. She rose quickly to get it for him; together they stooped and their shoulders touched. The contact was electrical ; they turned to each other and in a breath their mutual resolution was shattered. He saw her eyes, large and very tender. In the next moment she was in his embrace, her cheek against his.
“Julie, Julie, I love you.”
Pliant arms drew his closer—he had not dreamed that a w7oman’s arms could be so strong—the warmth of her young body reached his own, his head sw7am, swift intoxication sw7ept over him.
“Julie, do you hear? I love you.”
For answer she laid her mouth to his in a hungry caress that drew the very essence of life to their lips. She hung there like sweet ripe fruit ready to be plucked, and he was lifting her as he would a child when there grated behind him a harsh voice.
“Mr. Campbell, I was not aware that this is how you spend your evenings.”
AT THE DOOR stood Macdonald. He - had been drinking, though not enough to make him too drunk for speech and action, and hostility distorted his flushed face as with astonishing quickness he lurched forward and struck his clerk in the mouth. Neil stiffened, and what then happened came very quickly, for Julie, suddenly transformed to a fury, snatched a knife from the table and lunged with all her force. It was like a flash, but even at that not quite swift enough, for Neil’s arm shot out and took her by the wrist. The knife clattered down. For an instant she stood rigid, staring wildly at them both, then, sinking to the floor, she covered her face and began to sob.
There followed a silence, while Neil glowered at the bourgeois’ mottled features, he himself having become calm, even cold. He could have broken this man between his hands, though that were a mad thing, but Macdonald had struck him, and for a bourgeois to strike his junior officer was a grave offense. So far Macdonald had the worst of it, and with the blood deserting his cheeks, he appeared to recognize this. Growing uncertain, he glanced from the young man to the girl crouching slack between them, then back to Neil whose lips were compressed. Finally he crooked a finger of summons and walked out.
Neil followed wordless to his house, where, seating himself, Macdonald left his clerk standing. There was liquor on the table, but he did not touch it.
“Well, Mr. Campbell,” he began aggressively, “what have you to say for yourself?”
Continued on page 33
— Continued from page 22—Starts on page 20
“Then you are possessed of more sense than I imagined.”
“Having broken no rule of the company, what is there for me to say?”
“There are obligations to your bourgeois not covered by any rules,” snarled the other man. “I instruct you not again to enter Bouché’s house.”
“Is it not then Bouché’s house?” Neil’s tone was frigid, but he felt a prickling of the skin, and his great fingers were curving stiffly.
Macdonald, hating this youth for his urgent strength and composure, controlled himself with an effort.
“Like every other in this establishment, that house is under my command, as is every soul within the stockade. Also you will have no further association with Bouché’s daughter. You hear my order?”
It was out now. Macdonald liad taken his position, registered his claim and could not withdraw. For one passing instant he segretted this, but he was driven on by a desire that must soon destroy him were it not satisfied. Then, to his fury, Neil smiled and no answer could have been more provocative. The smile announced that to the girl Macdonald was distasteful, that he had made a fool of himself, that he would never achieve his purpose and her gifts would go elsewhere. The effect was to rob Macdonald of what little control he had left. He turned pale, and there burst from him what had pricked his soul since first he learned at New Fort that this youth had been ordered to Buffalo Lake.
“It is not the first time that a Campbell has.lodged under the roof of a Macdonald and betrayed the trust,” lie rasped in a thin ragged voice.
“I have betrayed no trust,” blurted Neil.
“It is not so long since the Campbells stabbed in the back those whose bread they had broken,” shrilled the bourgeois, unheeding, “and once a Campbell, always a Campbell. I marked you from the day I first saw you at New Fort, but said nothing, thinking perhaps you were not like the rest. Now ...”
He broke off, trembling, reduced to so unnerved a condition that Neil almost felt sorry for him. It was not good to see an officer of the company in such condition, so the young clerk spoke fairly, soothing Ills own hot blood.
“That business of Glencoe was over a hundred years ago, and the Campbells, who carried the king’s arms and were under orders, had nothing against the Macdonalds or any other clan. They did. sir, only what they were bid, and who shall say that they relished the job?”
“Bidden by the chief of all the Campbells. They could trust no blood but their own for deeds so foul, and blood does not change.”
NEIL, flushing, stood stiffly. What had he to do with all this? From a child lie had heard talk of Glencoe and that dread winter night, but it meant little. As for the Macdonalds, he had met a few in Montreal as friends and there had been no word of this ancient affair; so it appeared that the bourgeois must have gone mad, and it behooved one to keep one s own mouth shut at whatever cost.
“There was old Maclan hurrying across the moors with his oath of submission and only a day or two late, but that was all the Campbells needed,” chanted the other man in a voice unnaturally pitched. “So they ate his salt for a month, then killed him. They drank our brew, then stripped naked the Lady of Glencoe, tearing off her rings with their teeth. They pistolled women and children all on the word of a Campbell,” he raved, “and made a butcher's shop of the Vale. The curse of
Cain is on you all. Now keep your hand from the girl 1 will soon marry.”
“Marry,” stammered Neil, “you will marry her?”
“Before a witness in the custom of the country, for here I take what I will, what woman I want. You may find some other for yourself.”
Neil shook his head like a great dog. Bouché did not see the thing in that light, also the young man remembered what was said about trade coming from the Crees to Buffalo Lake because the guide had taken a Cree to wife, and that if he should leave the Fort tire trade would follow him. But knowing Bouché’s quick temper, it would be better if possible to keep him out of this dispute.
“Sir,” he answered holding his voice quietly level, “I am within my rights.and this girl is not for you.”
“I might have known it,” hissed Macdonald. “By heaven! you have had her already !”
At this a pink mist seemed to gather before Neil’s eyes. He gave a sudden sharp gasp, then strode forward, took the man by the shoulders and began violently to shake him so that his head flung loosely back and forth as though on a boneless neck, his teeth chattered, he became limp, helpless, dislocated, reduced to a bag of loose bones; then he was flung against the wall, where he leaned with arms outstretched for support, his mouth drooling, raving foul unspeakable things.
The young man, regarding him with disgust, turned away, and in that moment the bourgeois’ hand touched something, the stock of a pistol loaded and primed in its rack, ready for instant use in case of Indian attack. The touch made his nerves tingle and for a fraction of time steadied his jumping pulse. Snatching the weapon, he fired point-blank.
Instinct must have flashed a warning or perhaps it was the click of a lifting hammer that saved the clerk’s life, for he hurled himself to one side, but not swiftly enough to escape a bullet that tore through the skin of his upper right arm. The roar half stunned him ; he felt a streak like the kiss of hot iron, and, wheeling, saw Macdonald’s distorted features through a reek of smoke. They stood thus staring at each other with no words till the pistol clattered on the floor and the bourgeois began to sol) hysterically.
Now the door burst open and Bouché plunged in;
“Mon dieu! Is anyone—”
At sight of Macdonald and the still smoking pistol lie stopped, eyes rounded. Turning, he gazed at Neil, who onlypointed at a small hole breast-high in the log wall; blood trickled down his arm and began to drip in bright red gouts.
“It was an accident--accident,” yelped Macdonald. “I did not shoot; it went off of itself.”
Bouché looked at the slow trickle that now made a widening little patch, and again at Neil. The young man shrugged.
“Yes, it was an accident.” he said quietly. “The bourgeois was showing me when it happened and I am not reallyhurt. it is not deep. This is not the fault of anyone.”
The guide shot him a swift glance of complete understanding. He picked up the pistol, examined it closely and put it again on the rack, while Macdonald watched in a sort of daze.
“Alors, m’sieu; let us stop the bleeding toute de suite. Come with me.”
MORNING dawned on a different bourgeois. He looked subdued, shaken, exhausted, his face patched and pasty, but there was no liquor on his breath. His manner had a laborious politeness, with no apparent remembrance of the affair of a few hours ago, his chief concern being apparently over the disappearance of Petaun and his people.
The tribe had vanished during the night, which was a strange tiring, for travel in darkness was shunned by all savages except when on the warpath. There had been no noise, no scrape of canoes or muffled dip of paddles. Between the camp and fort stretched a narrow patch of brushwood, and screened by this they went as they came, leaving only their spindling lodge-poles to mark where the camp had stood.
Bouché’s woman had returned to the fort, baffled, without gleaning anything save that, Petaun, since discovering whom he had killed, had spoken to none except the conjurer. He had shut himself all day in his teepee, where he composed and chanted a death-song for his brother, extolling the slain man’s virtues, his bravery in battle, his skill as a hunter, and promising that he should not make the long long journey alone. That was all. Mamanouska had retired to solitary contemplation, the rest of the tribe were sullen, even the women could not be persuaded to talk, and the fact that Bouché’s wife was herself a Cree availed nothing in this instance. She liad moved over, they said, to the side of the whites and they trusted her no longer.
The days passed so smoothly that Neil began to feel happier, and other Indians came in to trade though not in any number. Now he saw Julie when he wished, but she seemed anxious and distrait, so for the moment passion slept and there was no more love-making, nor did Bouché make any further hints.
As to Macdonald, it seemed that some poison had worked out of his blood. His manner changed, he looked and acted quite normally, and not since Neil’s arrival had he been so affable. They had long evening after evening together playing écarté, while the young man studied his chief’s face and wondered what really moved behind those small narrow-set eyes. On such evenings Macdonald talked and talked well. He knew the Blackfeet, for I whom he had a great respect, calling them the aristocrats of all savages, and had traded with the Mandans whose filth and brutality he despised. So friendly was now his manner, and with never a reference to Julie, that even Bouché was disarmed.
This first winter of Neil’s in the new world brought with it a new satisfaction and happiness, and when Julie took him round her traplines he marvelled at her art and what she told him about animals. On these occasions they were very happy together; he admired her easy tireless grace on the trail, while she laughed at the clumsy strength he exhibited. Macdonald knew all about these excursions, and did not seem to care, but over them both began to close the shadow of approaching separation.
Macdonald was a puzzle. In the evenings he would talk and talk well, fingering the cards instead of dealing and finding pleasure in exploring what was no mean brain. When clear of liquor it was reten -tive, and he had read whatever came his way. What he lacked in himself was action and sequence, and though aware of the right thing to be done by himself, a physical indolence led him to depute it to others. At the same time, and without realizing that he was taking exception to the faults of his own nature, he was very critical, expecially of the English.
“They were always at the edge of salt water,” he jeered. “Radisson, the Frenchman, opened the interior to them over a century ago and they did nothing. Had he been supported, there would be no Montreal company today. Then the lad, Kelsey younger than you are; only eighteen years old, Campbell, when he
reached the Athabasca from the Bay.....-he
came back to tell them about that paradise for fur, and they laughed at him. Then Captain Knight and the search for gold—did you ever hear of that business?”
“Í have not, sir.”
“ ’Twas before the South Sea Bubble
burst that someone spread tales of gold in North America. The H. B. folk decided to gather it in, so Captain Knight, being then seventy years old, sailed north from Churchill with two ships and fifty men and fifty casks to hold the treasure. But he never came back; and Mr. Samuel Heame, also in the company’s service, found their bones only three hundred miles away and buried them. And after Radisson and young Kelsey there was Hendry, who reached the slopes of the mountains of New Caledonia, a still newer virgin fur country; and Hearne himself, who made contact with the savages of the barren lands. But nothing came of all these labors and the British slept on. It took the Scots of Montreal to waken them.”
T-TE TALKED thus with obvious satisfaction, for in truth he himself had had some hand in the process, while Neil only nodded, wishing that he had been posted to that other Macdonald of Garth or M. Charles Chaboillez,
“Mr. Campbell, you are about to make what should be a notable journey for a young man new to the country. The weather is now favorable, so you and Bouché will start the day after tomorrow.” “Yes, sir, we are quite ready.”
“But before you leave I should be glad to know that all is well between us. I speak frankly. Not long ago I acted under impulse and did a regrettable thing.”
“That is of the past, sir,” said Neil, liking the man better for his candor. “I have put it out of my thoughts.”
“Which is much to your credit, though it stays in mine. I will do what I can for you with the company” -here he paused, giving the young clerk a shrewd look -“but your advancement must turn on the degree to which you can aid in defeating our rivals, so always remember that. Use them when you encounter them, as you certainly will, but be careful they do not use you, for there is only one thing to be considered -prime fur at a minimum of expense. The courtesies of life have now no place in the interior.”
“I will try to remember that.”
“As for Bouché, you are under his | guidance but that is all. You are the master, so be not too influenced by what he says if it conflicts with your own judgment.”
“And my route, sir?”
“To the north some few days journey, then across the height of land, when you will go eastward toward Reindeer Lake, thence approaching Nelson House north of the Churchill River. Avoiding the customary trail, I suggest that later you make your way to Ile à la Crosse. You will observe that most of this journey will be in territory claimed by the English. So much the better. At Ile à la Crosse” -here sounded a dry chuckle “you will find another Macdonald, the one of Garth.”
“I will do my best, sir,”
That was all and they went back to écarté, playing till Neil’s eyes were red. When he said good-night, by natural impulse he put out his hand, got a firm grip in return, and went to his own house full of resolutions.
They started with three traîneaux, eighteen dogs and six post Indians, Bouché animated, talking at top speed, spirits high and seeming to have set aside his anxiety for Julie.
The Indians were silent. All wore capotes with thick woollen tunics, red sashes bound tightly, mittens hung from a sling round their necks, stout cloth leggings, and moccasins of heavy moosehide. The toboggans carried each four hundredweight of liquor and trade stuff. For shelter there were two shed tents —-single pieces of canvas to be stretched between poles. With these a sack of pemmican, for use only when fresh meat and fish might fail.
It was a fine morning, with vapor climbing from the water where men were lifting the nets. The air tingled, the sun shone clear, from the snow were reflected a multitude of tiny crystal facets so that Buffalo Lake seemed sprinkled with diamond dust, a man’s breath spouted from his lungs in a fog, and every inhalation of frigid atmosphere excited a sort of healthy riot in his blood.
With Julie there was only a brief gcod-by. During the past few days she had grown unaccountably elusive and remote, staying always with her mother and asking no questions of Bouché. She had made no protest at being left, and Neil, afraid to come to the house, hardly saw her at all. She seemed to have slipped away, slipped back, merging indistinguishably with other forest dwellers whose present home was within the. great stockade, and in a way Neil was almost glad of this. He still loved and wanted her deeply, but what had previously looked like enforced banishment had in a way sweetened into a signal for liberation, and he was invited to prove himself against other men in a land where only strong ones might survive.
At last the Indians struck along the winding shore to break trail up the long arm that led to the north. The dogs thrust tawny shoulders into bound leather collars, the forty-foot double traces tightened like a bowstring, and snow crumpled under the curving fronts of the toboggans. The expedition was in being.
As he rounded the first bend, Neil looked back at the brown palisade with its snowplastered guerile, at the great gate, and pencils of pale smoke rising vertically into the bright still air. The place looked warm, comfortable and very human in its wild setting, the habitation of those who, daring much in the pays d'en haul, asked little in return. He could not see Julie or her mother in the little group that stood watching, but he made out the figure of Macdonald when the bourgeois lifted his arm in salute while Neil waved his tuque.
There was nothing in that hour to suggest that never again would he behold this man or the fort on Buffalo Lake.
A SHINING pall had enshrouded Buffalo Fort. In spruce thickets the wide green branches were burdened deep; at times, as though at the touch of an invisible finger, the white freight slid from them with muffled softness when, swaying a little, they spread aromatic arms to collect anew the fruitage of winter skies. Out on the lake, ice was two feet thick; when the nets were lifted, the dark waters smoked like steam. Silence engulfed the world except when sharp rifielike cracks of expansion ricochetted across from shore to shore, and the trunks of cottonwoods could be heard splitting as the frost struck into their hearts.
It was late in December when Macdonald investigated his store of provisions, to find it even lower than he anticipated. Usually by this time there had been numerous visits by Indians, bringing not only fur for trade but also carcasses of moose and the woodland caribou often to be killed in this section of the interior. But ever since the death of Pinne the fort seemed to have been shunned by savages, and week after week went by with only a handful of natives trailing across the lake. Macdonald puzzled over this, cursed his luck, and turned again to his rum.
He brooded over this for a while, supplies still dwindling, and then summoned Larose.
“Mon vieux,” he said, “this matter becomes grave. You have killed practically nothing this winter, while I have sixty mouths to feed.”
“We worked hard, m’sieu, but killed only three caribou on three trips, and those we ate, having little else. Also we found no moose. To me it seems that the savage has them all.”
“You saw nothing of Petaun’s people?” “M’sieu, not one. I am told they have moved to the east, and do business with the English who give them much debt.” “Nor heard anything of Mr. Campbell and Bouché?”
“At one time we have seen what I think are their tracks, which also went east toward the country of the English river, but they left no message on the way.” “That is quite likely. Now how long will
it take you to go to Green Lake and bring j back pemmican?”
Larose stood scratching his head. “Cela dépend: Lac Vert she’s about one hundred and fifty miles from here. That’s maybe two weeks, m’sieu; maybe some little more if the snow she's too deep. How much pemmican you want?”
“Five trains of six dogs will pull five hundredweight each, and 1 can give you thirty of the best dogs. You will take j Goudreau with four other men and a letter j to Mr. Macdougal. I will expect you back | in fourteen days.”
Larose, murmuring something, looked j dejected.
“What’s the matter with you?” snapped j the bourgeois.
“M’sieu, la Nouvelle Année, she’s come next week, so Jacques and I we much like to be with our womans on that night and make little régal.”
Macdonald, accustomed to instant obedience, felt nettled. He well knew that with the Nor’westers the first day of the new year was the most important of all that followed.
That too was the time of La Chasse Galerie a dream dreamed by many a Canadian in the far interior, when a fleet of ghostly canoes would embark their exiled spirits, transporting them in a moment and above the clouds back to old Canada, hack to the Saguenay and Baie des Pères and the Richelieu, where for a few hours they would be gay and young once more, dancing with the girls, singing the old chansons, drinking the vin blanc instead of watered high wine till, as the clock struck midnight, they sailed off again through the skies to waken among Piegans and Crees and Blackfeet, with only that dear memory to carry them through to the next Nouvelle Année.
Such were the thoughts in the mind of Larose as he stammered a childlike petition, but against it there lay on Macdonald responsibility for feeding sixty souls that looked to him for sustenance. Nothing could replace the strong greasy buffalo meat of the south that was now running low. Even were caribou more easily got. that flesh had lesser nourishment. There were no beaver in the vicinity, the white pink-eyed rabbits were thinned by a disease that took them every seventh year, and Buffalo Lake was rapidly being fished out.
“You will get your liquor when you return and not before and then be as drunk as you desire, but this is an urgent matter, so take the best men and dogs. Should Mr. Macdougal not have the thirty hundredweight to spare he will tell you where to go. and my orders are not to return without it.”
LAROSE sighed and went out. In the J yard he met Julie and gave her the news.
“You leave at once, Paul?” said she, frowning a little.
“Tomorrow at dawn with old Jacques Goudreau. It is bad luck, that.”
“And for two weeks?”
“It may be more and we shall miss the régal. I said that to the bourgeois, but he did not care. He is one hard man, that bourgeois.”
“I’d like to miss it too—can’t you take me? I've got my own dogs; I’d help. Paul, please take me.”
“But the bourgeois would not permit, also we travel ver’ fast. For myself I do not like, it, but he speaks -and we go.”
“Paul, you remember what my father told you before he left?”
“But yes. I was to he your father till he returned, so what kind have I been? You tell me that, chérie.”
“Good.” she said gently, “very good, and I have been more happy because you were here. I’ll tell him when he gets back, hut I wish you were not going now.^ It will leave just the bourgeois, Casgrain and Lachance, and I do not like any of those men.”
“Petite, are you then afraid of something?”
“Of nothing.” She gave a little laugh. “I am very silly, that is all, and shall miss \you very much. Bon voyage, Paul, and come back soon.”
The sunrise was grey and lowering when the two Frenchmen went off with their tall lean savages, driving thirty sharp-nosed dogs; Paróse, a man of great physical strength, breaking trail, shoulders forward, arms loose, his shoes kicking up little powdery puffs. Julie, with a sense of oppression, watched their figures diminish across Buffalo Lake to the long point and vanish, then went back to the cabin to work on a pair of new racquettes. Bouché had fashioned and lashed the tough ash frames, and now she sat weaving lengths of moose babeche, or rawhide softened by soaking, into springy webbing. This was an ancient art, and were the webbing rightly stretched it would not sag in spring weather.
Thus occupied, she would stop and stare into the lire, eyes cloudy, then examine the cabin with a vague disinterest, for here was the only substantial home she had ever known and tonight it seemed home no longer. Though the outer world was still a mystery, something had made her more critical and comparative. The log walls seemed to dissolve, and far beyond this axe-hewn dwelling swam the phantom pictures she always painted after her talks with Neilpictures of Montreal with its great houses of stone, its animals called horses which sire had never seen, pictures of wonderfully dressed women, of the great ship that brought Neil over the Atlantic in three short weeks, of Neil’s slate-roofed home, of a drink called milk, of innumerable things small and great which she had never hoped to attain before Neil came. It was strange, she thought, that her father should be content to live without all this, strange and not natural, but Neil would have it later on and, loving him, she would go with him. That to her mind was quite settled. He had said nothing of this himself, had never asked her to marry him or even be a country wife, but it could not be otherwise, though when once she spoke of it the uncertain look in his eyes told her that he was not ready for that yet.
Her mother had no place in all this. The girl felt that soon, in some unexpected way, she would be separated from the withered woman who went wordless for hours, was content with so little, and did just what Bouché told her, suggesting nothing. Julie used to study her mother's features and dry figure that grew more and more bent, the misshapen copper-colored hands whose palms were the color of the old walrus tusk that Bouché had picked up from a Northern trader, and marvel that she herself should be so different. Her mother would spend an hour cleaning a saucepan and Bouché didn’t seem to care; she expressed neither pleasure nor regret; in summer she would sit half the day in the sun with the thick shawl still over her head and appear to feel neither heat nor cold. No trace was there left of the warmblooded girl who took the frozen body of a young Frenchman in merciful arms and wooed it back to life. What, she wondered, could one do with such a mother?.
After Neil’s arrival Julie brooded no more about this, for the first sight of him quickened her imagination, displacing all else. His manner, his courtesy, the uncouth strength of his body, the sober interest he displayed in all that was new to him, his quality of determination all this she had not encountered before, and it attracted her strongly. His dignity in the face of Macdonald’s immediate dislike, and the way Bouché told her he had shaken the bourgeois till the man looked disjointed-this was all fascinating. Neil was different; he wakened her love and soon she would have died to save him. She dreamed about the affair with Macdonald, was thrilled that it should have been over her and, loving Neil in her sleep, wondered when she would see in his eyes the dawn of desire. She knew that Bouché was ready to bestow her without further waiting, priest or no priest, and lier heart had warmed that Ñeil should have held back; but tonight, alone, drawing the tough
babeche between her fingers, she wished that he had had less restraint. It would have settled forever the matter of the bourgeois, while she felt in her soul that this still remained unsettled.
Macdonald’s assumed indifference had gone too far, and she sensed it with the instinct of a wild creature that suspects a trap. Not without some second motive had he ridden himself of the four white men she knew and trusted, keeping Casgrain and Lachance, who invariably flattered him with smooth tongues and spent licentious hours with native women. The women made them welcome, husbands did not object, and Macdonald shut his eyes.
VIEW YEAR’S EVE came dark and gloomy. The occupants of the fort filed through the store, where Macdonald stood distributing the company’s annual gifts to all. There was liquor for each man white or native, and a foot or so of Spencer’s Twist; to the women a yard of cloth, a pinch of tea, some lumps of sugar from the hard maple or a gilt gewgaw from Birmingham. Doing this, the man seemed to thaw a little, his sharp ferretlike eyes were more genial, they lost some of their furtiveness; and such was the universal desire to cast off even for a small space the vast loneliness of life in some exhibition of good will, that for a little while the atmosphere of the place seemed to change. There was joking and laughter, old rivalries and animosities were forgotten, and the stranger who happened to find haven here would have pronounced it a frostbound but contented Utopia. And now the drinking began. There was much shouting, presently intoxicated men were reeling about, embracing, exchanging maudlin compliments, and sharing their liquor with native women.
The short day drew on with no abatement of the storm. Complete darkness had descended at four in the afternoon, and Julie, who during this orgy kept closely to her cabin, was lighting a lamp fed by fish oil when she heard steps in the outer kitchen.
“It is you, mamma?”
There was no answer, and the steps came on. Macdonald was standing in the doorway.
“M’sieu,” she stammered.
He gave a nod, sent a glance round the comfort of the place, then one hard look at her, and seated himself. His manner had deliberation, and at once she knew that though he had been drinking he was not drunk, which alarmed her the more.
“Why does m’sieu come here?”
“To pay you a little visit for La Nouvelle Année,” said he, “knowing you would be alone. That is not fair for one so young.”
“I am not alone, m’sieu. My mother is-
“Is with other women of her people, sharing something that brings contentment to every Cree.” He smiled coldly. “She is not thinking of her daughter, who is not very hospitable this evening, but I feel amiable and overlook that. Flave you any news of your father?”
She shook her head. “I have been hoping, but there is no news. Then you have some?” she exclaimed. “My father is coming, perhaps tonight?”
“No,” he replied coolly. “But today a coureur passed on his way to the Athabasca and told me that Bouché had travelled far to the east near Reindeer Lake, which is as I instructed him, and would not return for some time.” Here he paused, then added cynically: “I believe that your father was well but had taken little fur.”
At once she felt convinced that Macdonald was lying, for had Bouché encountered a man bound in this direction certainly he would have written even if Neil did not. So, crowding back her fears, she made a pretense of interest and smothered the question she knew that Macdonald waited for.
“My father takes a long journey,” she said calmly, “but he is at home in the strong woods.”
At tliis good acting, Macdonald’s lips set a shade tighter; he felt irritated and showed it.
“I received no news of anyone else.”
“Nor did 1 expect any. My father told me not to; that he was going to a country strange to him.”
This brought a silence that she endured better than himself. She sat still with her hands folded though every nerve lay on edge, while he moved restlessly in his chair, gnawing at a bearded lip, regarding her obliquely under half-lowered lids, and cursing a composure that only sharpened his appetite till the moment became too much for him and of a sudden his real purpose burst out.
“Julie, that is enough of those others. Now there is a matter I wish to speak of.
It concerns you and me, and tonight we will settle i#t.”
“But no,” she said quickly. “There is nothing any more to be settled; it was all ended before this.”
“That is only nonsense. It may be that I have been asking too much, so your father said no, and perhaps he was right. But now I have changed my intent. I demanded you as my country wife, you and no other woman, but tonight I think otherwise. It is all quite simple. You will live with me this winter, then next summer I will take you when I meet the brigade at New Fort and there will be a priest to marry us. Meantime you will come to me.
I will write my promise on paper for you to give Bouché when he returns. No woman of your blood can ask for more, and few of them get as much.”
HE SAID this smoothly, still controlling himself. It was sudden, not at all what she anticipated, and for an instant her guard went down. It was clever, too, clever enough to be hard to deal with. There was no insult here; more than one bourgeois had made such an alliance with one iike herself, with ultimate satisfaction for both. Now it seemed that she was in a sort of trap and her brain worked quickly.
“That is not any use and nothing would make me do it. 1 have not changed.”
“You will not marry me!” He seemed almost bewildered. “Not marry me?”
“Is it not enough that I do not love you?”
At this he sat for a moment quite still, and she saw the strong hairy fingers curling in toward the broad palms till they closed tight. It was the only sign he gave, then of a sudden he broke out:
“You are still young and a fool, but will do what I say for I am bourgeois here,” He paused, pierced by jealousy. "If you were not a fool you would not be thinking of the man now in your mind.”
“The one I do love?” said she gallantly. That shook him; he stood up. brows contracted, the short barrel-shaped body rigid, eyes hot with growing anger. Thus erect and glowering, careless in dress and person, he looked uncouth and formidable, and imagining herself in those arms she gave a little shiver.
• “You talk of young Campbell. I do not care what has been between him and you. That is over, and when he comes back to Buffalo Lake he will not remain but go across the mountains before the snow melts. You will not see him again. Should your father not agree, he goes too; but you you stay here with me.”
“M’sieu,” she said bravely, glimpsing one faint hope, "let it be like that, let us both wait till my father returns, and what he then says that I will do. I promise it.” “And if he does not return?” countered Macdonald grimly.
Now at the look in his eyes a new fear took her, and. she saw the man to be capable of any extreme. Was it possible that he withheld grave news; had disaster overtaken those two in the pays d’en haut? Her heart stilled at the vision of them in the hands of hostile natives, and there crowded back the bloody tales that in past years sire had heard with voiceless horror. She thought of torture, of ñngerjoints lopped off one by one, of death that would be merciful did it not tarry so long in coming.
“There is no reason they should not return.” she faltered, “and already you have told me that all is well. M’sieu, I am not frightened of this.”
Macdonald tossed up his bearded chin. “We waste too much time, you and 1. I have said what I will do, but before that you will come to me tonight; yes, tonight. I wait no longer.”
She put a hand to her throat, breast heaving, her dark gaze burning into his, lips moving but not with words. She stood there while the suppleness of the young body taunted his hunger; and never, he thought, had a woman looked more desirable.
“Is that all?” he said thickly.
“I would kill myself first,” she whispered.
“Not till I have done with you!"
His arms shot out; he took her wrists, snatching her to him till both arms went round her. At this, something of the tigress was roused in her. Savage with hate, she fought him desperately; writhing, twisting like an otter, sinking her teeth into his arm, at which he yelped and used greater violence. An elbow under his chin thrust his head back. He growled like a dog and wrenched it away. Her struggles only intensified his desire, and he swore that such a concubine was worth conquering. With hungry triumph his mouth fastened on her throat.
“Mercy!” she panted. “For the sake of the dear God, your mercy.”
The answer came but not from Macdonald. The petition still quivered on her lips when there shrilled through the outer darkness the sound that brings terror in the strong woods. The bourgeois heard it. His pulse slowed, his grip relaxed and he shrank back, staring*at her with startled incredulous eyes, no longer a menace but a man stricken with deadly fear.
It was the war cry of the Crees.
To be Continued